Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Houston connections

January 10, 2011 3:14:47 AM PST
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords served on subcommittees involving NASA. So obviously people there are concerned, especially with her husband being an astronaut. We spoke briefly with Congresswoman Giffords' father-in-law. He told us the bullet which struck her went in the back of her head and came out the front somewhere near her forehead. He didn't want to say any more.

Rep. Giffords is known to her friends as "Gabby".

"Gabby is very sweet, very nice. She's tough. She's smart," said Houston restaurateur Tillman Fertitta. "I've always said Gabby is gonna go a long way."

Fertitta has been friends with her since before she married astronaut Mark Kelly. He went to their wedding and was just recently was with them in Las Vegas. So when the veteran space traveler called him this morning, saying his wife had been shot, Fertitta was stunned.

"Mark's a pretty cool cookie," said Fertitta. "But this was definitely a pretty frazzled guy, because you're not there."

In fact, Fertitta says he and Kelly struggled with inaccurate reports which initially claimed Giffords had died. Kelly was on Fertitta's plane rushing to Tucson when they got that word, which they quickly established wasn't true.

"He finds out and we get it out there that she's alive and in surgery," said Fertitta.

Earlier, from mission control, NASA informed her brother-in-law, her husband's twin brother, Scott Kelly, of the shooting. He is on board the International Space Station.

Congresswoman Giffords is known as a friend of NASA. She's served as chairwoman of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee and holds seats on both the House Science and Technology and Armed Services Committees.

"Today is a very sad day for the NASA family," said Kari Fluegel with the Coalition for Space Exploration, a group of space industry businesses that work together to promote U.S. dominance in space.

At a time when the future of human space flight is uncertain, she says Giffords' advocacy has helped immensely.

"Congresswoman Giffords has been really a strong supporter of the space program and has been an active advocate for space," she said.

In a statement issued by NASA, Administrator Charles Bolden said, "We at NASA are deeply shocked and saddened by the senseless shooting of Representative Giffords and others at Saturday's public event in Tucson."

As a long-time supporter of NASA, Representative Giffords not only has made lasting contributions to our country, but is a strong advocate for the nation's space program and a member of the NASA family."

ABC13's Tom Koch and Jeff Ehling are in Arizona and will continue to cover the shooting that left six people dead and wounded several others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Watch for their reports on Eyewitness News.